Tag Archives: academic achievement

What Does A Professor Look Like?



By Kevin L. Nadal, PhD


As a child of poor immigrants from rural Philippines, I often heard about how my parents grew up without running water and limited electricity. They told my brothers and me stories about the things that they didn’t have while growing up, and how they overcame traumas of war and poverty. These anecdotes made me feel equally grateful and guilty, while also motivating me to strive for success. In fact, it is through these stories that I learned the importance of attaining a college education as a way of fulfilling our parents’ American dreams and somehow compensating for the historical trauma that my family had overcome for centuries.


When I was accepted into the University of California at Irvine, I declared a major of psychology. In retrospect, I did so for two basic reasons: 1) because I enjoyed an introductory psychology class I took in high school and 2) because I wanted to help people. I thought that when I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree that I could be a psychologist, and I naively held onto that belief until my third year of college.


At some point during my college career, I realized that I had only had two high school teachers of color – a Filipina who taught World History and a Chicano who taught Religious Studies. Having gone to a high school that was 70% people of color (and about 50% Filipino American), being taught by White teachers (and learning through White lenses) was the norm. In college, my first few semesters were taught by White professors (although more than half of the students were Asian American), which made me feel like it would be the same type of educational experience.


However, sometime during my third year, I was introduced to my first professors of color – a Korean American woman who taught Political Science and a Black American man who taught Psychology. From that point on, I went out of my way to find other professors of color too. So, I signed up for the Multicultural Education class taught by Dr. Jeanett Castellanos – a class that would forever change my life.


Our classroom was filled mostly with students of color – each with unique perspectives and ideas. Dr. Castellanos had a way of connecting with each student – finding a way of making them feel special. Everything she had taught in the class was something I had great interest in. We talked about racism and immigration and privilege. I found myself participating more than I had in any other class. I wondered why I loved this class so much more than my psychology classes, and I realized that it was because we were talking about issues that were so meaningful to me.


Dr. Castellanos (or Dr. C as I affectionately called her) pulled me aside one day and asked me to meet with her in her office. At first, I thought I was getting in trouble (which I later learned is a common first reaction for any student of color or child of immigrants when a teacher asks for a personal meeting). However, she assured me that it was because she wanted to talk about my future. She asked me what I would be doing after college, and I told her I was going to be a psychologist. She asked me about where I would be going for graduate school, and I said, “What is graduate school?”


She sweetly replied: “Well you’re going to have to go to graduate school if you want to become a psychologist.”


I was dumbfounded; I had no idea.


She continued: “Well, I think you should get a Ph.D.”


“You mean medical school? I don’t want to be a doctor.”


Smiling, she responded, “Well, you would be a different type of doctor. You’d have a doctorate.”


What I remember most about that conversation is that she did not shame me; instead, she educated me. She taught me about what I needed to do to get into graduate school. She recommended that I get my Master’s degree first, so that I knew exactly what I wanted to do. She told me to apply for the Ronald E. McNair program and another undergraduate research program – which were both designed to ensure that students like me were aware of the resources and opportunities to succeed. I got into both.


In my senior year, Dr. C pulled out the brochures of the programs that she thought I should apply for. (The internet was not as sophisticated back then, so very little information was available online). I chose a handful of schools that seemed interesting, and each sent back big catalogues with applications. I wrote my essays about how I wanted to be a Filipino American professor and how I wanted to study Filipino American psychology.


When I got my first acceptance letter, I was absolutely shocked; I thought there had been a mistake. As a few more rolled in, I was still in disbelief. While this would continue to be a theme in my life – that any success I have is somehow a mistake – Dr. C assured me that I deserved all of those acceptances. She helped me navigate my decision of where to go, and for twenty years, she continued to be someone who I could reach out to for support and guidance.


Experiences like these are why it has become so important for me to ensure that young people of color, particularly those with multiple marginalized intersectional identities, could indeed recognize that they, too, could be become professors. Perhaps many of us do not know what is possible because we don’t have exposure to professors or others who look like us. Perhaps many of us are used to seeing White people as our teachers, authority figures, and celebrity role models, that we don’t recognize that we, too, can be those same influential figures. As my good friend Dr. Silvia Mazzula always says, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”


Ten years later, after attaining a Master’s degree and a doctorate, I actually became a tenure-track assistant professor. The only problem was that I was still one of the few professors of color in my department, one of two queer people, and definitely the only Filipino American. Though I had the same (and arguably more) credentials than my peers, I was used to being talked down to by my older White male colleagues or being asked “Where is the professor?” when I started lecturing on the first day of class. So not only is visibility important to encourage young people of color to enter the academy, but it is also important for us to change the face, the narrative, and the norm of academia.


Today, Dr. Mazzula and I continue to work on different projects to enhance visibility of people of color within academia – from the Latina Researchers Network to the LGBTQ Scholars of Color Network. More recently, we’ve promoted the hashtag #ThisIsWhatAProfessorLooksLike to show the faces of academia – or at least the faces that we often don’t see. No longer should we be comfortable with the status quo of having only White professors. No longer should we be complicit in allowing our future generations to believe that they cannot achieve their goals. While there could definitely be more of us, we do exist. And we are fierce, fabulous, loud, and proud.


Nadal Blog Post



Dr. Kevin Leo Yabut Nadal is a Professor of Psychology at both John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Graduate Center at the City University of New York. He received his doctorate in counseling psychology from Columbia University in New York City and is one of the leading researchers in understanding the impacts of microaggressions , or subtle forms of discrimination, on the mental and physical health of people of color; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people; and other marginalized groups. He has published over 100 works on multicultural issues in the fields of psychology and education. A California-bred New Yorker, he was named one of People Magazine’s hottest bachelors in 2006; he once won an argument with Bill O’Reilly on Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor”; and he was even once a Hot Topic on ABC’s “The View”. He has been featured in the New York Times, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS, the Weather Channel, the History Channel, HGTV, Philippine News, and The Filipino Channel. He is the author of eight books including Filipino American Psychology: A Handbook of Theory, Research, and Clinical Practice (2011, John Wiley and Sons), That’s So Gay: Microaggressions and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community (2013, APA Books), and Microaggressions and Traumatic Stress (2018, APA Books). He was the first openly gay President of the Asian American Psychological Association and the first person of color to serve as the Executive Director of the Center for LGBTQ Studies. He is a National Trustee of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) and a co-founder of the LGBTQ Scholars of Color National Network. He has delivered hundreds of lectures across the United States, including the White House and the U.S. Capitol. He has won numerous awards, including the American Psychological Association Early Career Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology in the Public Interest.


It Takes a Village to Raise a Child: Racial and Ethnic Socialization (RES) Beyond the Curriculum


This is the third in a series of blog posts that the American Psychological Association (APA) will publish regarding racial/ethnic socialization practices, programs, and approaches. APA is putting together a clearinghouse of resources to help parents/caregivers to protect youth of color and themselves from the psychological damage of discrimination and racism. For more information regarding APA’s new initiative and to provide feedback as we continue to engage in this series, please visit: www.apa.org/pi/res.

This post is also featured in our recent “Back to School” blog post series.


By Chynere Best and Noelita Bowman (Doctoral Psychology Students, Howard University)


All parents have probably noticed that raising a child is not only the parent’s job. You are constantly getting input from other family members, friends and teachers. Children spend more than half their day in school so it is safe to say that the school system, and those who work in it, play a huge role in your child’s life. That means that answering tough questions on topics like race and ethnicity is a challenge that teachers will have to face.


Teachers, administrators, and other pertinent staff share the responsibility of educating our youth. In addition to teaching subjects like reading, math, and writing they also help to provide a safe and inclusive environment for all students. Providing a safe environment includes being able to communicate about race effectively with students.


One way schools can address race and racial socialization is to embed its concept throughout the curriculum and beyond. For example, teachers should work to highlight the ways in which culture impacts our everyday lives. Schools should ensure their curriculum is one that promotes cultural diversity, and inclusivity for all students from different backgrounds. School personnel should ask themselves:


“What can I do to empower my students to embrace diversity?

How can I create an environment that promotes an understanding that different does not mean deficit?

What message(s) am I intentionally or unintentionally sending to my students about race in my classroom?”


Culture at its core is our identity! It influences our values, beliefs, and worries. When schools provide an environment that allows students to discuss differences and engage in perspective taking, they create a climate that is safe and nurturing for all to grow and learn.


In discussing RES outside of the curriculum, here are some sure ways that teachers can facilitate the conversation about RES in school.




1. Debate:


Debating has long been known to have numerous beneficial outcomes. However, if not initiated and facilitated effectively this exercise can lead to negative outcomes to include divisiveness and entrenched positions. It is critical to have well-trained school personnel lead these types of activities, as they would be more effective in recognizing the different nuances concerning debates. Using debating as an activity in the school is intended to open student’s minds regarding RES.


Effective debates enable participants to gain a broader perspective, promote critical thinking and analysis, and teach research, organization and presentation skills as students must consider all angles of the situation or topic as they build their argument. Furthermore, it encourages teamwork and respect since students must work together to build their case, eloquently express their views and politely consider and refute their opponent’s position.


The school can carry out the debate in various ways. The typical pro versus con positions can be given to discuss topics such as the integration of racially segregated schools in the United States. Past versus present situations can also be incorporated to help students find the connection between their history lessons and present-day situations.


An example of this type of scenario would be “Would Malcolm X have won the presidential election if he ran against President Obama?” Additionally, a multigroup question can be posed. In this case students would be divided into 3-5 groups, each tasked with a different perspective on a prompt. For example, language is a powerful tool used for direct and indirect communication. However, in most schools across the United States, very few languages are taught. A multigroup debate question that addresses language in schools could be “Which, if any, foreign languages should be taught in schools?” Teachers should present a wide range of languages for the groups to consider such as Spanish, French, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, Mandarin/Cantonese, and Yoruba.”


2. Multicultural Events and Activities:


Acknowledging racial and ethnic differences can be even more fun and enlightening if we turn it into a celebration. Every culture has their own special holidays which hold varying types of significance whether religious, like the Muslim celebration of Eid Al-Fitr, traditional like the Chinese New Year or historical like Black History Month. One way to achieve this is to incorporate various cultural holidays and celebrations into the school calendar. Students can be a part of this process by suggesting celebrations native to their cultural backgrounds to be included on the calendar. Each group should not be confined to one major holiday or event such as Black History Month. All events should be supervised by a teacher or administrator to ensure that the focus is on appreciation of the specific culture being celebrated.


3. Discussion:


Sometimes addressing issues does not have to be wrapped up in a big event, project or assignment. Oftentimes the teachable moments that occur naturally are the best way to send a powerful message. Teachers should be aware of events that occur in school and society and be willing to address them openly with students. Addressing issues can be as simple as throwing out a question or topic for a student led discussion during lunch or a free period. The goal of these types of activities is to open the door for students to learn about current issues, express their opinions and have more open dialogue with their teachers and peers. Some examples of discussion topics include conversations around hair, skin color and racial stereotypes. It is important to note that someone should be appointed as a moderator for the discussion to ensure that no one person monopolizes the conversation and a level of respect is upheld as people express their views.


Ultimately, the purpose of these suggested activities is to help teachers get more actively involved in RES and to help students be more engaged as they learn about race and ethnicity. Teachers and administrators must be properly trained to carry out the above activities in order for them to be successful. This means being aware of the issues that occur in school and in society, being confident about your ability to address the issues head on and being dedicated to doing so in a way that unites, educates and builds appreciation for others among your students.




Chynere Best is a doctoral student in the Developmental Psychology Program at Howard University. She serves as the lab coordinator for the Cultural Socialization Lab (CSL), under the supervision of Dr. Debra Roberts, where the research focuses on culture as a buffer to the negative influences of toxic environments. Chynere’s specific research interests concentrate on culture and identity development in adolescents and young adults of African descent. She is originally from Trinidad and Tobago.


Noelita Bowman is pursuing a PhD in school psychology at Howard University. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Hampton University, where she was a summa cum laude graduate. Noelita has interned in several of APA’s offices including the Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs in Summer 2017. Noelita’s research and interests include exploring ways to improve the academic achievement and school readiness achievement amongst children of color. Her dissertation focuses on exploring parent and teacher attitudes on school readiness. She believes all children have the capacity to learn, it is the environment in which they function in that alters development in a positive or negative direction.


Image source: iStockPhoto.com

Filed under: Children and Youth, Culture, Ethnicity and Race Tagged: academic achievement, back to school, culture, Education, race relations, racial and ethnic socialization, racial identity, racism

Beyond the “Melting Pot”: Why We Need to Support the Multicultural Identities of All America’s Children

It’s that time of year again – back to school! Follow along with our newest blog series on prepping your young ones for the new school year. Most posts will focus on issues affecting children (K-12) and eventually college age youth.

By Kalina Brabeck, PhD (Associate Professor of Counseling, Rhode Island College)

At a recent community meeting I co-facilitated, a Guatemalan immigrant mother shared that, in response to the election of Donald Trump, her eight-year-old daughter posed the following question: “I was born here in the US. But I’m Latina, because you are from Guatemala. Does that mean even though I was born here [in the US], I don’t belong here?”

Embedded in this girl’s question was the assumption of a binary: She could be American, or she could be Latina/Guatemalan, but she could not be both. By eight years of age, this child has the cognitive skills to reason and think more abstractly, and to understand that identity is constant and multifaceted. Indeed, it is during this stage of development that personal identity becomes more complex (kids can understand, for example, “I’m a girl/ daughter/ Christian/ soccer player/ Latina/ American”). But after the US elected a president who ran on a platform which pitted (White) Americans against (Latino, Muslim) immigrants and posited families like hers as a threat to the United States, it is understandable why this child, despite her cognitive capacities, questions her ability to be both Latina and American.

Unfortunately, when we create an environment that leads children to feel ashamed of their ethnic identity, or to think that they cannot be both ethically identified and American, we are robbing them of a crucial protective factor that enhances their development. Numerous research studies have found that strong ties to cultures of origin, multilingualism, and multicultural identities provide cognitive, academic, social, and emotional advantages. Speaking multiple languages is linked to greater cognitive flexibility- like the ability to quickly go from playing outside to doing homework. It has also been linked to the ability to follow directions and stop/think before acting.

Kids who are adept at navigating different cultural contexts are better at taking the perspective of others and developing empathy. Embracing one’s culture of origin connects children to a community of people, a set of values, and a sense of history, all of which help offset the negative effects of racism, discrimination, and poverty. Children with greater ties to their cultural identities are more likely to value and be motivated to succeed in school. Moreover, when immigrant children are allowed- and encouraged- to bring their languages and cultures into US classrooms, White and English-speaking students benefit from learning from them. It’s important preparation for living in an increasingly global and diverse world.

The old idea of the “melting pot,” in which ethnically diverse individuals “assimilate” into a monolithic American culture and identity, while losing roots to the culture of origin, has long been debunked in the social science literature. Rather, we encourage integration– that is, adaptation to the dominant cultural and continued identification with the culture of origin. Multicultural identities, in which individuals are able speak multiple languages, navigate different cultural expectations and norms, and effectively interact with diverse communities, are linked to better health, academic, and social outcomes for all our children. Their ability to succeed in a global and multicultural world also benefits our country. Let’s not disadvantage our children, or our country, by forcing them to make a false choice.




Kalina Brabeck, PhD, is a psychologist who specializes in discrimination, immigration and trauma at Lifespan Physician Group and Rhode Island Hospital. She speaks English and Spanish and works as part of the Latino Mental Health Program team, where she provides psychotherapy to Spanish-speaking patients. Dr. Brabeck is an associate professor of mental health counseling at Rhode Island College. Dr. Brabeck’s research focuses on the effects that poverty, discrimination and legal status have on Latino immigrant families. Her work has been published in many peer-reviewed journals, books and encyclopedias. She is a member of the American Psychological Association. She is also a member of the APA’s Committee on Children, Youth, and Families.

Filed under: Children and Youth, Culture, Ethnicity and Race Tagged: academic achievement, bicultural, bilingualism, children's mental health, cultural identity, ethnic identity, immigrant children, immigrant families, multicultural, multilingualism